I have an aunt who up until the age of 93 drove herself to the doctor for each visit. At each of those visits, the doctor would to tell her to stop smoking. She didn’t heed his advice and her life was cut short at 95 years of age.
We tend to look to doctors to heal us. But they are really just advisers. They can prescribe medicine, suggest different ways to eat, and advise us to change bad habits. But we have the final decision over how we live and how it will affect our health.
Consulting works in the same way. Consultants can advise their clients on recommended business practices. The client can choose whether they want to follow that advice. They may disagree with it. They feel it’s too big of an investment. There are ways that the consultant can help the client make the right decision.
Be like an auto mechanic
When you hear a clanking sound in your engine, you probably take your car to the mechanic. The mechanic will investigate the noise and advise you on what needs to be done. If it’s very expensive, you may decide you want to live with the clatter. The mechanic should tell you whether it is dangerous to drive with the noise. Continue reading How to Help the Client Make Decisions→
If somebody mentions consulting, many things may come to mind, mainly because there are so many types of consulting. There are consultants in virtually every industry that will provide any number of services needed by their clients. But regardless of the industry or service sector, there are three primary categories of consultants.
Staff augmentation (Staff Aug) consulting: This is a filler role. It’s usually used when a person or a group of people with a specific skill is needed for a temporary project or a peak time. This can be handled by an individual, but they usually work with intermediary firms that connect people and skills with an organization’s needs. Continue reading 3 Skills Required to Get Hired in Management Consulting→
I recently had a conversation with someone who owns his own small sporting goods business. He told me he wasn’t interested in sales. “I just don’t like cramming something down somebody’s throat that they don’t want.” He told me.
That doesn’t sound very desirable. But then again, that is not what good selling is about. Consulting is a form of professional services. Consultants serve professionals to help them become more successful. It follows logically that consultants must deliver value. If a consulting firm’s sales team crams a project or service down the client’s throat that they don’t want, there is no value involved.
This is why so many consulting firms involve delivery people in sales. Sales people have their place in the sales cycle to help close a deal. But delivery people are better equipped to ensure that what is being delivered has value to the client.
One of the key aspects of selling consulting services is doing the necessary homework on the client. I’ve seen many sales-focused consulting organizations who meet a client for an initial introduction. The majority of the meeting is focused on the consulting firm. They go into great detail about their history, what they do and why they have been so successful. They have solutions and they’re not afraid to use them, regardless of whether they help the client. Their primary goal is to sell.
Customer focused firms do their homework to understand the client’s business, they make the initial conversation about the client’s business issues and try to determine where they need help the most. Instead of trying to fit the firm’s solutions to the client’s problems, they try to learn about the problems to see if they can provide a solution.
Trust and Credibility
The standard joke about sales people is that their favorite sentence is, “We can do that.” Sales people never want to turn away a sale. Our delivery people will figure out a way to make it work.
Michael Porter, Harvard’s strategy guru, says that the essence of strategy is defining what you don’t do. Consulting firms should define what it is that they do based on their strengths. They should also define what is outside of their expertise. I was once with a firm who had a client ask us to propose on a business intelligence project. We had no experience with BI. We could have contracted with some independent BI consultants and proposed, using their experience as ours.
Instead, we declined to propose. Additionally, we gave the client the names of two of our competing firms that actually focus on BI. We told them, “We can deliver the appropriate value that you need. But here are the names of some firms that are very good at it. You should talk to them.”
At first the client was frustrated. They wanted to know why we were turning down business with them. They wanted to work with us. When they realized that we were adding value by not selling, we developed trust and credibility with them.
Thinking about selling invokes images of a transactional relationship. When you go to the local department store and purchase a shirt, that seems like a transaction, plain and simple. You bought the shirt. They sold it to you. End of transaction. But if you get home and find a flaw in that shirt, you will probably want to go back to the store and get either a refund or a replacement.
How would you feel if you went back to that store and they refused to make good on the damaged shirt? If they said “buyer beware,” you might tell them you’ll never come back to their store.
Some stores do have strict policies to reduce fraud. But they need to be aware that they might lose good customers. And they want customers for long-term relationships. If they provide excellent customer service, they might become the customer’s favorite store. Customers go there regardless of competitor advertising and they don’t have to compete on price.
The same principles apply to consulting. If the client is ever dissatisfied with their service, most consulting firms will do whatever it takes to satisfy them. They know that it’s harder and more expensive to find a new client than to keep an existing one. Making sure they give excellent client service and exceed the client’s expectations will result in better value delivered and greater sales.
Great salespeople have strong networks. A large volume of contacts is nice, but it has limited value if those contacts aren’t strong. If you meet someone at a professional conference and connect with them on LinkedIn, that’s a nice start. But if you never interact with that person again, it’s a very weak connection. Imagine that three years down the road, if you identify a potential client who is connected to that person. You could send a message to that connection asking for an introduction. That person may be reluctant to introduce their friend to someone they don’t know very well. They may not even remember you or the circumstances around how you met.
It’s great to connect with people who work in the same or similar industries. But it should not end at the connection. Once you connect, review their profile. Identify areas in which they are interested. Seek out articles and blogs that are related and that they might be interested in.
Reach out to them occasionally to see how they are. If they change jobs or anything on their profile, send a congratulatory greeting. All of this will help them remember who you are and make you stick out. They will know more about what you do and be more interested in introducing you to other people they trust.
Clients that establish long term relationships with consultants do so because they want an expert. They know that nobody is an expert in every area, but they want your expertise in your area. Chances are the client is a leader in his or her business area. They are looking for a leader in consulting.
Consultants have to develop and demonstrate leadership with their clients in order to become their trusted advisor. Simply being a loyal servant to the client is not the leadership they are looking for. If they are considering a decision that the consultant disagrees with, a good consultant offers a diplomatic dissenting opinion. Provide evidence and data that might help them change their mind.
The client may not agree, but will appreciate your sincere effort to help them make the best decision for their business.
When we think of sales, we often think of the slick salesperson or the person who goes door to door using high pressure and fast talk to fool you. These techniques may work if you only want one sale from each customer and you will never deal with them again. It is the definition of fly-by-night.
Using those techniques to sell consulting services will fail. Consulting is not transactional. It is a long term relationship based on trust. In consulting sales, helping is selling and selling is helping.
How do you approach sales for consulting services?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
My son, a senior in high school, is a pitcher for the school’s baseball team. He’s been playing since he was five years old. I’ve watched him and many of his teammates grow up playing baseball.
It’s been fun watching these boys develop as young men and as baseball players. Some have a natural talent. Others have worked very hard to make the team and continue to be competitive. I’ve seen some that got to the point where their talents didn’t allow them to go to the next level and be competitive.
These boys continued to go out for the baseball team every year. Some years they made it and sat on the bench for most games. Others simply didn’t make the team. In his junior year, the coach transitioned my son from catcher to pitcher. He sat the bench most of last year as a result. But was told he would play more this year.
Playing baseball from the bench
My son had a couple of friends who went out for the team for their senior year and didn’t make it. He felt bad for them. I told him it was probably better in the long run not to make the team than to sit the bench for their whole senior season.
He disagreed. “Even when you sit the bench, you’re still part of the team,” He countered. I thought about some of the stories he told of games when he was on the bench. He talked about working the field with the team.
He talked about joking with the other players. He didn’t have stories of great plays or winning hits he made. But he had stories of the fun he had. He had stories of contributing in ways other than playing baseball.
Consulting on the bench
That opened my eyes a bit. I hated watching him sit the bench last year. But as much as he would have rather been playing, he still had fun because he was part of the team. He felt good when they won and was sore when they lost.
It made me realize a situation I was dealing with – or not dealing with – at work.
I had been on a project that started out behind and went downhill from there. After some time of spinning our wheels, the client complained. My firm responded by making some changes. One of those changes was to take me off the project. They were very clear with me that they didn’t blame me for the problems. They just needed to demonstrate to the client that they were serious.
I was kept on the project to help with transition and to help wherever I could. But I was clearly on the bench.
I started out doing what I could do to help. But as my replacement came more up to speed, he didn’t need as much help. I went in to a funk. As much as my teammates were struggling with a difficult project, I felt like I was on the outside looking in.
I felt like the guy whose girlfriend broke up with him, but he couldn’t afford to move out yet. So he had to sit there and watch her have sex with the new boyfriend.
Everyone in the firm knew I was taken off of the project. I wasn’t billing, which is never good in consulting. In our daily stand-up meetings, I was the one who didn’t report doing much. It was a pretty humiliating experience.
Boo hoo. Woe is me.
Adding value from the bench
The conversation with my son resonated with me. He wasn’t out in the field playing. He wasn’t getting any RBIs. He could have been humiliated and quit. He could have come home sulking after every game about his lack of glory. Instead, he talked about his friends on the “bench crew” like they were their own team.
He added value where he could. He helped rake the field before and after every game. He cheered the team on when they won. He consoled them and shared in the disappointment when they lost.
He found ways to add value.
I looked around me and saw that there really were a lot of things I could do that would add value consulting on the bench.
There are usually a few people in the office that are unassigned. Consulting firms have to maintain some form of a bench to keep a staffing pipeline for the sales pipeline. I got together with few unassigned coworkers (our own “bench crew.”) We worked on designing a second release of an internal application that the firm used.
At least we could add value for future projects.
Most consulting firms fuel their growth in three ways. They have to sell projects to clients to make money. They have to deliver those projects in order to bill the clients. And they have to hire competent people in order to deliver those projects. You can’t be good in only two of those areas.
So I kept my eyes open for anyone in my network who might be in the job market. When that happens and I’m busy on a project, I might refer them to my favorite head hunter or send their resume to our firm’s recruiter.
Since I had time, it gave some back to them. When people told me they were looking for a job, I’d meet them for coffee and find out what they were looking for. I tried to find people who might be a good fit for our firm that I could refer. If they weren’t a good fit, at least I had done a little networking. You never know when they might be a fit down the road.
In the old days, we used to call it sales. But that sounds so used car-ish. It’s really about developing relationships though. I kept my eyes open for new opportunities from my network. When there was something that looked like an opportunity, I referred it to our business development team.
I also talk to them about anything I could do to help. Could I provide delivery expertise in a proposal or in a prospect meeting? Was there any running they needed that they were too busy to do?
In addition to the above items, there is usually a lot you can do to help out if you just look around. Is there any testing you can do for any of the teams before they hand things over to a client? Can you help out the receptionist with anything? Does anyone, anywhere in the office need a hand with anything?
Get over yourself
Most consultants associate their value with billable hours. If they aren’t serving a client, they feel as though they aren’t adding value. They think of a client project team as their team.
But consultants are also on a firm-wide team. You might be on the bench, but there are other ways you can serve that team. If you feel that you are above that kind of work or that it is outside of your job description, you’re wrong. There are many other ways you can add value to your firm.
Perhaps your ego has been bruised for being taken off of a project, or for just going a period of time without a billable assignment. Work on developing a thicker skin, get over yourself, and figure out ways to help in other ways. It might just get you your next assignment.
I always thought my son and his friends felt left out sitting the bench. But I realized that they would have felt much more like outcasts if they were not part of the team.
For whatever reason you find yourself unbillable, consulting on the bench can allow you to do some other consulting-related activities that you don’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. It also might help you turn humiliation to humility.
What have you done to add value when consulting on the bench?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
In the 1990s, I rarely missed an episode of Seinfeld. I still watch repeats when I find one while I’m channel surfing. I remember one episode where the consummate loser George Costanza gives a tip at the counter of a fast food restaurant. The server didn’t see him put the money in the jar. When he realizes that his good gesture was not witnessed, he reaches in to get the money back so he could put it in for the server to see him tip.
Unfortunately – and predictably – for George, the server sees him taking money out of the tip jar and thinks he’s stealing from it.
For George, it wasn’t enough to tip the server to enhance his earnings. George needed the server to see that he was tipping so he could get the recognition of appreciation.
Seeking recognition for our hard work
In the business world, we thrive on getting credit. Sure, we all get that paycheck every 15 days, but we also seek recognition for our accomplishments. Managers are taught to give recognition in kind words of praise and in monetary terms.
We learn early in life with our siblings and classmates how unfair it is to see someone get recognition and praise for something you did. If I had washed all of the dishes and my mother had praised my sister for it, I would have raised some serious hell.
In high school or college, you may have worked on group projects in which the entire group received the same assignment. Even if that one guy in the group did little to nothing to contribute.
We expect recognition to be fair. And we rarely deal well with someone taking credit for our own hard work. A consultant, however, must sometimes deal with not getting credit for his or her hard work.
Getting the job done, but not getting credit
Clients hire consultants to get a job done. The consultant is paid for his or her expertise. Come in and make the client successful. If you did what you were paid to do, you get paid. If you did well enough, you might even get additional business.
The client manager will usually take the work you did, present it to the boss, and boast about his or her accomplishments on the project. The boss usually knows there was a team involved. But the boss hired the manager to get things done. And that’s what the manager is evaluated on.
If the manager is good, he or she will make sure the executives know that there was a hard working team that was a big part of the success. A good leader deserves a lot of credit for directing the team the right way and motivating them to get the most productivity out of them.
Payment for expertise
Consultants are often brought in for their expertise in a certain area. Sometimes that expertise is that they just know how to get things done. The client team is so bogged down in politics that they can’t get anything done. While they deal with the back-stabbing, positioning, and CYA emails, the consultants are busy doing the work.
The client manager gets praise from the executives for a “job well done.” The praise the consultants get is another contract. That may come from the client manager, or other managers who see how effective the firm can be.
Internally, the consulting firm should be giving the consultants the praise they deserve. Firm management should also train the consultants not to expect that praise from the client. It may come, but it should not be expected.
We can claim that we don’t need to get credit for everything, but deep down we all want the love. We certainly like to see that direct deposit notification whenever we get paid. But nothing beats that pat on the back and an “atta boy” from the boss. Consultants just need to realize that the client may claim all the credit for the work. And that’s just how the game is played.
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
– Harry S. Truman
How much credit do you demand?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
Throughout my career, I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the interviewing desk. It is nerve-racking sitting on the opposite side of that desk. No matter how confident I was, I was sure they would ask that zinger that I couldn’t answer. Worse yet, I was afraid they would ask an easy one, to which I would blurt out something so stupid, they would just get up and walk out.
Over the years, I began interviewing people for entry into the firms I worked for. I found that that made me a better interviewer. I could identify the ones that hadn’t prepared. They were just going down the same list of questions they ask everyone. I knew when they had read my resume or were reading it for the first time as they sat down.
At one large firm that I worked for, we held recruiting days. The firm would arrange for several candidates – mostly college entry – to come to our office and go through a full day of four interviews. They would meet with two managers, one senior manager and one partner. At the end of the day, all of the interviewers would meet at a “round table” meeting. There, we would go through each candidate and the interviewers would give their assessment.
In these round table meetings, I learned about the various things different interviewers focused on. Some discussed the candidates’ confidence. Others focused on appearance and their ability to face a client.
I found that many people focused on the college the particular candidate went to. It caused me to wonder what the value was of the school a candidate attended.
Experience reduces risk
When I went to school in the 1980s, school was cheap compared to today’s tuition rates. I graduated from Illinois State University. ISU is not heavily recruited from the top consulting firms. Those that give it the time of day only hire a select few. I received, at best, a passing glance from them. There were no second interviews.
Instead, I took a job at a small, privately held consulting firm as a computer programmer. I did the same as a lot of new developers for the big firms. I didn’t get paid as much, because my firm couldn’t bill me out for as much.
After four years with that small firm, they went out of business. It was a scary feeling. But within a couple of days, one of those large firms came in and said they would interview anyone interesting in talking to them.
Many of our people interviewed. That firm ended up extending offers to four people, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. It made me wonder, why was it that they couldn’t be bothered with me four years ago, but now I was so valuable.
It was pretty obvious to me that my four years of consulting experience proved a lot more than a four-year degree. Lots of people can eek through college. They can even get good grades. But they aren’t necessarily consulting material. Consulting demands more than just smarts. It requires the ability to think on ones feet. It requires people that have the confidence to make decisions, do hard work, lead others, and sell, all at once.
My four years of experience in consulting, and my willingness for more, showed them that I was good enough for them. At that point, they didn’t care what school I went to.
When I began interviewing experienced people, I found that some would draw attention to where they went to school. I would ask a question and they would reference an experience they had in college.
If someone went to the trouble of looking up my LinkedIn profile, they might bring up the fact that we both did our graduate work at Northwestern. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
I’ve always wanted to say, “Oh! I get it. The old boys’ network. You want me to hire you because we’re both in the same ‘club’.”
“Yeah. That’s how it works,” was the response I imagined.
When I interview experienced people, I might glance at their alma mater at the bottom of their resume (and it should be at the bottom). But it isn’t a factor in my decision. In my opinion, if you have four or more years of experience, you should have an entirely different set of laurels to rest upon.
If you have that much experience, and you’re still counting on the alumni network to get you a job, you might be doing something wrong with how you manage your career.
I’m not alone, but I’m not the majority
There are many people who feel the same way I do. Particularly those that have had to prove themselves every day because they didn’t go to Harvard. There is a large population of people who went to nobody schools, community colleges, or didn’t even finish. Many of them figured things out for themselves. They are successful despite a so-called limited education. Some of them are more successful because they were getting experience when many others were partying and going to football games in college.
There are many interviewers like me that look for those people. However, there are still those in power that will hire a twenty-year veteran because they were in the same fraternity at the same university. They may pass up someone with better experience, but with the bad DNA of a lowly college.
I suppose, what it comes down to is that you should market yourself with as many positive values as you can. Attend the most prestigious school that will accept you and that you can afford.
Once you get that education, make it count. A 3.6 GPA doesn’t add to a company’s bottom line. That GPA should translate to knowledge. Knowledge should transfer to ability. Ability should transfer to results. And those results should contribute to the bottom line.
What is the focal point of your resume?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I’ve written before about how to deal with one’s removal from a project. But when it actually happened to me, I gained a better insight into what causes it and the best ways to deal with it.
Set up to fail
We all knew it was going to be a tough project. It was a program actually; five projects that were supposed to interact with each other. But they didn’t. The client had a program manager. He collected information from the various projects. But that information wasn’t shared well among the projects.
The project I was assigned to manage didn’t have an initial scope defined. Our first task was to define the scope. There were many other issues that should have raised red flags from the beginning. It was a very political environment where many people were in fear of losing their jobs. That always creates additional work, frustration and general hoops to jump through. Continue reading How I Handled the Removal from a Project→
I was recently at a client that had a lot of issues. Business was great. They had a lot of customers. They were experiencing a lot of growth.
But because of that growth, they were beginning to hit the limit on their ability to serve their client base. Their servers were starting to hit their limits. They had a lot of manual processes.
Those processes worked well for them when they were smaller. But now, manual processing was causing bottlenecks. A lot of work went to the IT team as special requests. IT was bogged down with these requests, which caused delays of several weeks for seemingly simple requests.
When the client acquired a new customer, there was extensive setup involved. They needed to define custom reports and load new sets of data. All of this processing created a logistical nightmare that could take several weeks.
Where to start?
The business team wanted to be more self-sufficient from IT. Instead of submitting requests and waiting for them to get to their task in the queue, the business wanted a simple tool to set up the customer, load data, and create reports. But there were so many areas that needed work, they didn’t know where to start.
Have you ever started a day where you had so many things to do, that you struggled to get anything done? You could list the items out, but that only highlighted how much you had to do. It seemed to make it worse.
You might have been so overwhelmed that you thought writing out a list would simply take time away from doing the real work. If you feel so inundated with work that you don’t have time to organize, that’s a sign that you need to get organized.
If you do take the time to make a list, you might go through that list and prioritize it. When the list is long, it’s hard for me to prioritize in a sequential process. How do I decide what is 2nd most important and what is 3rd?
For long lists, I’ll prioritize in categories. “A” items are of top priority. “B” items are important, but not critical. “C” items are nice-to-have.
The next step is to estimate how long each task will take. This allows me to do a mini cost/benefit analysis. Let’s say something I thought was an “A” item will end up taking me six hours. I can do four other “A” tasks in the same amount of time, so I’ll do them instead.
This seems easy enough with personal daily tasks. It’s much more complicated when a business division is trying to make these decisions. It’s more difficult to determine which tasks have more value. It’s harder to estimate the cost of making each change.
An independent third party can come in and make independent assessments of the cost and benefit of each task. They can present their findings to the business to make the final decision on what should be done and what can be tabled for later.
Imagine a consultant coming in for you at the end of each day to help you organize and prioritize your upcoming overwhelming day for you. Maybe that’s overkill for a daily to do list. But it’s just what some business organizations need to make the right changes at the right time.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
Our family was watching a movie the other night. One of the actresses was familiar. My wife and I had seen her before. We sat there racking our brains for a few minutes when my daughter finally blurted out that she was in a TV series we used to watch.
We looked over and saw her there with her iPhone in hand. She looked the actress up on IMDB and found it. It hadn’t even crossed our minds. But my daughter saw no need to waste time, effort, and frustration messing around trying to determine an answer that was at her fingertips.
It made me realize two trends that are taking place. First is the fact that the millennial generation (those born during the decade leading to the change of centuries) automatically thinks of Googling, IMDBing, or Wikipedia-ing the answer.
Those darned kids
Some old-timers may complain that this generation doesn’t figure anything out on their own. They have to look it up. They’re never going to remember anything.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If it is a fact that you can look up, why not. There is a saying in consulting that you have to be smarter than Google. This means that you can’t be a good consultant if you just know a bunch of facts. The client can Google it and get that much.
To be a good consultant, you have to be able to take those facts, combine them with your knowledge, and be able to solve problems that apply to your client’s business.
Millennials aren’t hurting themselves by looking up facts. They’re getting a head start on the information. Then they will be better prepared to solve the problems.
The second trend is the fact that we find computing everywhere. Going back to just the early nineties, people had personal computers. But any software that was loaded probably came from a 3½” floppy disk – or a stack of them. We used computers for word documents, spreadsheets and games like Leisure Suit Larry.
In the mid-nineties, the internet became available for public use. It gave us access to the outside world through our computers. It gave us access to shopping and a lot of information that was previously more difficult, if not impossible to access. But we still needed to go to our computer to find it.
In 2007, Apple introduced the first iPhone, which led to the smart phone generation. Three years later, they introduced the iPad, blazing a trail for tablets from many other companies.
This mobility allowed people to create applications (apps) specifically for use on these mobile devices. Combine this with the millennials’ comfort with mobile devices and the internet. More mobile apps drew more people to use them. More people using them, bred more apps.
Now, it is expected by many for a company to have a mobile app. Moreover, the expectation is that it be informative, entertaining, and rewarding.
The mobile app should provide information about the company’s products and services. It should be fun and entertaining, preferably with a game that can be played that relates to the product line. Finally, the app should provide badges or some other reward that the user can collect to purchase products or redeem for some other value.
Mobile apps have become “loyalty tools,” enticing users to return to the app on a regular basis. Continued use is designed to seduce them to purchase products, share their experience with others, and develop a loyal customer base.
Other apps allow the user base to collectively provide their content. Apps like “Yelp” allow individuals to rate their experiences with restaurants and other retail stores. A user in an unfamiliar location can use the app to find a nearby hair salon or a pizza restaurant. Based on the rankings of previous patrons, they can find what they’re looking for and select a retailer with high user rankings in minutes.
Crowdsourcing is used in real time also. Traffic apps like “Waze” allow users to provide up to the minute traffic information to update users of police locations and traffic backups in the same area. This allows users to avoid congested areas during their commutes.
IT: Integrated instead of involved
Companies are finding that information technology is no longer a support function. Instead of taking orders for a new order entry system, IT is working with marketing. The company’s marketing strategy is tightly integrated with IT. A mobile app should not be treated as an add-on feature. It is part of the company’s overarching go-to-market strategy.
A company that “scrapes the screen” of their website to make it mobile-friendly will miss the boat. Users aren’t looking for the website on their device. They want an app that was intended for device use and for device users.
A great opportunity for consultants
Any new trend in technology is a boon for consultants. When the World Wide Web was introduced in the 90s, it was a windfall for consulting firms who had developed web development capabilities.
When Google began changing their algorithms for search engine results page rankings, search engine optimization (SEO) became the big target. SEO consulting became the next in-demand opportunity for the consulting industry.
Now it is mobile. Mobile strategy and mobile application development are the latest opportunities for the consulting industry. It is one of a number of areas that companies will need help figuring out over the next several years.
Disruptive technologies like mobile cause many businesses to step back, re-plan, and change direction. These disruptions are what keep consulting firms in business, as long as they stay up to date with those disruptions.
Is your company computing everywhere?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
I had lunch with a former client the other day. As we talked, I realized how different our careers had evolved. We both got our undergraduate and MBA degrees at the same universities. But he got a corporate job and I chose consulting.
By looking at his LinkedIn profile – and his face – I would guess him to be around 50 years old. He started working at his company right out of college and has worked there his entire career. By contrast, I’ve worked for seven different firms in about the same period of time.
While his approach to stay at the same company over the course of his career is becoming less and less common these days, it is almost unheard of in consulting. I was once at a large consulting firm for six years and people asked me why I stayed so long.
It highlighted the fact that managing one’s career in consulting has some unique considerations than other occupations.
The sky is the limit
When you graduate from college, the world is your oyster. The potential is entirely up to you. Large corporations and consulting firms come to most universities and try to recruit the top graduating students. Those students have to make a lot of decisions for their life. One of which is whether to go into consulting or the corporate world.
You may not have the option. Consulting firms usually seek the top ten percent of students. Some only go to the top schools to recruit. If you didn’t go to a selected school, or didn’t get good enough grades, you may not be considered.
Consulting firms also hire experienced people. If you aren’t able to get in as a college grad, you may be able to get a corporate job, get a few years of experience, and reapply.
One of the bigger differences you will see in consulting is that it is usually a series of projects. Clients usually hire consultants to help them run a project. Consultants may serve on a project for a few weeks or months and move on. You may get assigned to a multi-year project where you’re at the client for an extended period, but that’s fairly rare.
Most projects have a deadline and interim milestones where work products need to be completed on time. Many consultants find that they are always on a sprint to meet one deadline or another. When the project is finished, or your work on the project is finished, it’s on to the next project, probably at another client.
Consultants should be aware that they are only as good as their last project. Providing good work occasionally will rarely work out well. Consultants need to be at the top of their game at all times. Clients expect it and the consulting firm expects it.
You have great skills? That’s nice
So you think you should get a job in consulting because you have an advanced technical degree or some expert skill in some technology. That’s nice, but it’s not enough to make you a good consultant. Consultants need to be top performers and manage their career accordingly.
Consulting is a growth industry. When a project is sold to a client, the firm immediately begins looking for more opportunities to sell more projects. If someone at the client leaves for another company, they immediately begin seeking consulting opportunities at the individual’s new company.
Consultants are expected to grow as well. If you are a software programmer, you will be given more and more responsibility over time. You may have people reporting to you, or be put in the role of a technical lead. Doing the same thing for most of your career is rare in consulting.
Learn from failure. You will inevitably make mistakes throughout your career. Rather than hiding them and forgetting about them, learn from them. It’s hard to grow and learn if you don’t take advantage of your mistakes and learn from them.
Continuing Education. You may work for a firm that sends you to training and professional conferences on a regular basis. If they do, take advantage of it. However, it is your responsibility to stay up to date with your skills. You will have to do the minimum of reading books, blogs, and articles to maintain your skills and remain aware of the latest trends. You may also have to attend training at your own expense. Consultants more than most occupations need to be willing to invest in their own career advancement.
Up or out. Moving up to the next level is something that is on most every consultants mind. In other industries, one can find a job they like, that they may be good at, and work in that job most, if not all of their career. It’s true that many others are climbing the ladder, but it’s a personal choice. Many consulting firms have an unwritten rule that you should always be moving up. If you’re not, you must be complacent. Firms will often weed out the ones that don’t have the ambition or the ability to grow to the next level in their career.
Although it is rare these days to find people who work for one company for their entire career, there are plenty in existence. The thing I’ve noticed about these people is that, if they do have a LinkedIn profile, they have very few connections. People who stay in the same job with no intention of looking for a job, see no reason to use the networking app.
I once knew such an individual. I looked him up and saw that he did have a profile. But there was no picture and he had only 27 connections. A year or so later, he lost his job due to a merger. I now see that he has a professional picture and over 300 connections.
LinkedIn is a great tool for networking to look for a job. But waiting until you need the job is almost too late. Your network should be a pipeline. You meet people and develop quality relationships with them. You help them out with efforts like connecting them with others and providing articles they may be interested in. Someday, if you need them, they may be able to help you out.
But networking is about more than just a job search. Companies are always looking for quality people. Having a strong network can help you help your company with staffing and recruiting. If you meet someone who would be a good fit at your organization, you can have some say over the people you work with.
Business development is another reason to develop your network. In consulting, everyone is responsible for some sales. Even at the lowest levels, you are expected to have contacts that you can introduce to the higher levels. And the more you advance, the more you will need to seek out your contacts to develop new business.
When you think of Nike, it may evoke images of their famous swish logo or perhaps Michael Jordan. Those images are due to the intentional marketing of Nike. Just like Nike and Coca-Cola, you have a brand. It might just be the unintentional result of your personality.
Smart consultants are intentional about their brand. They have defined how they would like to be perceived by others and behave in a specific manor to perpetuate that image. Consultants know that their credibility is an essential component of success. They need to be seen as credible internally by the bosses and their coworkers. They must also be seen as credible with clients. Having a personal brand strategy helps the consultant be seen in the way they desire.
While professionalism is important in many businesses, it’s critical in consulting. Consultants are usually under the watchful eye of clients. In an effort to be seen as credible with clients, consultants must act professionally. This includes the way they dress and how they behave with the client. It includes responding to client requests promptly and showing up to meetings on time.
Another aspect of professionalism is knowing when to play politics. Consultants will deal with politics within their firm and at the client. Politics generally occur when people have conflicting priorities. A professional gets involved in politics only when necessary. Using politics for political self-gain is a short term strategy that usually won’t work for the long term in consulting.
Being successful in consulting involves a lot more than having a skill. It’s less of a matter of what you do than how you do it.
Attitude. It’s important to have a positive attitude as a consultant. He must approach everything with the can-do attitude of a good problem solver. Negativity and a pessimistic attitude that we are all doomed whenever a problem occurs will rarely result in success.
Be prepared. Like a good scout, a consultant is prepared for anything. Going into work every morning can bring about new and unexpected challenges. Being prepared for anything to happen will help you deal with those unexpected moments.
Flexible. A consultant can find out on one day that he’s being taken off of a project and be expected to be in another city, for another project the next day. Consultants should be flexible enough to make quick changes of their assignments at a moment’s notice.
Focused. Someone who meanders through his day and through his career should probably not try consulting. Consultants should be consistently engaged and keep a strong focus on work at all times.
Leadership is one of the most critical skills a consultant should carry. Clients look to their consultants for leadership in many aspects.
Decision making. Consultants need to be decisive in how they will lead projects. Clients may have the final say in many decisions that they make for their organization, but they lean on the client to provide sound advice to help in those decisions.
Mentoring. Consultants have a lot of business and industry knowledge to share with clients. It is important for them to share that knowledge to make the client better at what they do. They also need to share their knowledge internally to help develop the next generation of consultants and leaders.
Problem solving. Consultants are generally hired to solve a problem. Consultants should seek out business issues and enjoy solving problems.
Consultants rarely become consultants because it is a job. Consultants recognize it as a career. The successful consultant approaches that career in a strategic fashion. Managing your consulting career successfully involves planning, developing a network and behaving in a manner which clients and coworkers take you seriously.
What mistakes have you made that have helped you learn about managing your consulting career?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.